Germany's Merkel vetoes minister's quick aid for Greece

BERLIN (AFP) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel has blocked a bid by her powerful finance minister to offer fresh aid to Greece ahead of European elections in May, Der Spiegel magazine reported Sunday.

Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble had wanted to give the ailing Greek government a "demonstration of solidarity" by committing this spring to further support from Europe after the May 25 poll.

"He sees the danger that without the prospect of further aid, radical parties in Greece could make big gains in the election," leading the government in Athens to collapse, the magazine reported.

However, it said Merkel's own domestic political concerns led her to veto the move over fears that the eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD) could benefit from a fresh debate about aid for Greece.

The AfD, which wants to abandon the euro and return to the deutschmark, was formed last year and failed to win any seats in September's general election.

But it scored 7 per cent in a recent poll, far above the 3 per cent hurdle for seats in the European Parliament.

The Eurogroup of eurozone finance ministers, where Schaeuble represents Europe's biggest economy, decided in November that Greece could apply for help in reducing its massive debt if it achieves a primary budget surplus.

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said Sunday that Greece had registered a surplus of more than than 1.5 billion euros (S$2.59 billion), exceeding requirements for additional debt aid.

However EU Economics Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn said in an interview published Sunday that he opposed further help for Athens ahead of the European elections.

He told Germany's Welt am Sonntag that a debate about further debt relief for Greece could be discussed "over the summer or afterwards".

At the height of the eurozone debt crisis, bankrupt Greece and other countries were forced to implement painful spending cuts in return for billions of euros in bailout aid from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

Merkel and Schaeuble, as the chief champions of efforts to impose austerity, attracted the rage of citizens bearing the brunt of the measures.

In addition to the European poll, Samaras faces risky local elections in May in which his conservative party's main rivals, the anti-austerity leftist party Syriza, are poised to score major gains.